Gaming is more serious than a lot of people assume it to be. You can’t just buy a headset or headphones and a microphone at your local electronics store for cheap and be at the top of your game. When I used to play Counter-Strike competitively for many years (it’s still going!) and the gear I was using in my matches was my number one priority. Without top gear and computer hardware you won’t be able to compete with the higher level. The best gaming headphones depends on a few factors here, and just to be clear, we do not mention headsets for various reasons, but most importantly because some of us just don’t like headsets. They can get big and clunky, aren’t as comfortable as normal headphones and some don’t even come close to the accuracy and sound quality we can attain from a nice pair of professional headphones. Here’s how we get started.
How to choose your headphones for gaming
There are a few factors to take into consideration when picking out your gear. We’ll tell you right now, and this is in our opinion the most important: we prefer to use professional headphones that provide the clearest audio quality and use an external USB microphone for communication. We know the traditional image of gaming sound\mic solutions is headsets, but in our opinion you can get 3-4x better quality and experience using our method. Plus, you can use these headphones for music and everyday listening as well — they’re portable (who listens to music in public with a headset?) too. You can also check out our best microphone for gaming if you need a mic to accompany your headphones.
Another very popular solution we’ve seen with gamers is using the Zalman ZM-MIC1 Headphone Microphone to turn any pair of headphones you have into a headset. It’s only around $10 retail and all you do is stick it onto the side of any pair you have and voila, a headset is created. The microphone is obviously what you pay for, so you won’t be getting any professional sounding voice quality out of it, but it gets the job done if you think you can make it work. Definitely something to look at!
Let’s get to our main concern. Here’s our checklist for choosing the best gaming headphones:
- Your budget. This is a given, but it is the single most imoprtant facet of shopping for gaming headphones. We provide headphones from all ranges to give you some options. The higher you go, the better quality model you’ll be able to get — but we’ve seen some great pairs around the $100-$200 range.
- Noise-cancellation headphones are preferred. You don’t want sound from the outside leaking in. I guess it depends on where you’re gaming, but you never know — there’s always outside stuff that can get in the way of your experience. This is why closed-back, over-ear headphones are preferred and is what we went with.
- You need sound accuracy. Although it depends on the game you’re playing, sound accuracy is crucial. You don’t want those footsteps sounding like they’re further away than they truly are. The more accurate, the more your skill level will increase since you’ll be able to hear exactly what you’re supposed to. Being able to distinguish the frequencies from each other makes it easier to know what’s going on in your gaming environment. Getting those bass headphones at your local store won’t do anything but muffle the important sounds that will skew your perception.
- Comfort is critical. I’ve gamed for days on end, so having a pair of headphones that won’t cause ear pain is key. We made sure to choose comfortable pairs.
- Get wired headphones. Although technology has improved greatly, we don’t recommend getting a pair of wireless headphones. Although not always the case, a lot of wireless headphones have a slight delay in the sounds traveling to your ears from your computer — you want the sound to hit you as soon as it can, otherwise the other players have an edge on you. Go with a wired pair of headphones.
The best gaming headphones
We’ve sorted our picks based on the price, so go down the list to see which fits your budget and other needs as well. Let us know which pair you end up going with in the comments!
We’ve loved Razer for quite a while when it comes to gaming gear, and these headphones around the $60 retail range are perfect if that’s what your budget allows. The Razer Kraken have a nice, solid construction at the price and is highly comfortable. The ear cups are can fold so it helps in terms of portability if you’re traveling. 40mm drivers built into this thing along with a frequency response of 20 to 20k Hz, you’ll be fine in terms of hearing everything clearly. The impedance isn’t as high as the others in this article but beggars can’t be choosers with the price. If you want a step above however we recommend saving up at least $100 to get some higher quality headphones, especially if you’re gaming competitively and want an edge (or merely match) over your opponents.
Sennheiser HD-280 PRO
You’ve most likely heard of Sennheiser headphones before, and if you haven’t they’re one of the most popular brands in the world when it comes to audio solutions. Now we start to get into the professional pairs of headphones, and this gives us around 32 dB attenuation of outside sound (basically, great cancellation). It’s also very light and comfortable since the earcups have a nice padding (are collapsible as well) as well as the headband. Just has a nice warm, accurate sound that gamers love — the bass is controlled and not muffled, and you can still hear the highs clearly for all gaming environments, whether you’re simply playing some old school tetris or the latest FPS.The HD models have numerous versions, but we went with the HD-280 because it’s affordable and is highly reviewed everywhere. These are one of the best pairs of headphones for gaming in our opinion.
AKG K 240 MK II
These are actually semi-open but we’ve let that slide since the sound accuracy is great and the frequencies are easy to detect. This is perfect for identifying where footsteps are or other indicators which you need to tell which direction and proximity your opponents and teammates are. The AKG K 240 MK II put an emphasis on comfort so you won’t be feeling any pain when you play for an extended amount of time and the headband is self-adjusting to give it a custom fit. Clear high frequencies, deep low-ends and you can even tell the mids with this pair. They’re up there in price as compared to the others in the article but well worth it if you have the cash. The reason we’ve allowed a semi-open to be in this list is because it allows some build-up of sound to exit the earcups which can in the end be beneficial so it doesn’t cloud up your overall audio output.
We love these because they’re the newer version of their beloved ATH-M50 (very huge around the internet) but have an interchangeable cable, so you can either use a short\long coiled or straight cable. The earcups can also swivel and fold, so not completely necessary but always a plus if you’re taking a break or need to talk to a person next to you (also great for traveling if you play at a friend’s house\competitively at centers). The drivers of the ATH-M50x are 45 mm so a bit higher and more powerful than other standard pairs of headphones, and the frequency response is plenty (albeit average) at 20 to 20k Hz. Read our ATH-M50x headphones review for more information or check the other reviews and prices below. These are extremely popular around the internet and is the go-to for really any type of use if people are looking for accurate sounding headphones. You can also check out their newest upgrade by reading our ATH-M70x headphones review.
These are very popular among the studio headphones world but I have heard some great things about them for gaming. Shure is quite popular in the audio solutions game, and the SRH840 give us a comfortable fit with foam ear pads, and even though the drivers are only 40 mm don’t let that be the only indicator of the accuracy headphones for gaming will give us. This particular model has very clear frequency distribution as backed up by numerous reviews around the net. The cord is also detachable which isn’t completely necessary but is always a plus — you can use a shorter or longer cable for whatever is more comfortable. It’s also got a carrying bag included if you travel a lot to game with your friends (or opponents!). We couldn’t ignore this model because of it’s reputation.